Former U.S. President Barack Obama said that the extent to which social media companies claim they “are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic” is not “tenable,” he told the publication in an interview published Monday.
“They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not,” the former president said in the interview. “The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse. If you can perpetrate crazy lies and conspiracy theories just with texts, imagine what you can do when you can make it look like you or me saying anything on video. We’re pretty close to that now.”
Obama’s statement that social media platforms should be considered more like publishers than public utilities would have significant implications on how the companies are regulated.
President-elect Joe Biden has harshly criticized Section 230 and Facebook itself in an interview with The New York Times editorial board published earlier this year.
“Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms,” Biden said at the time, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, taking a more extreme position than many of the Democrats and Republicans currently seeking to tweak the laws’ protections.
In purposefully, actively, and personally deciding to stomp on a negative story about Joe Biden that was published by a reputable newspaper in the midst of a political campaign, Facebook and Twitter have definitively and unmistakably crossed the line from being internet platforms to publishers. As such, the legal protections granted to them under Section 230 must be withdrawn so that they can be regulated like The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and all of the other publishers that filter, edit, and curate the information they provide to their subscribers.
Facebook and Twitter can’t have it both ways. If they want the legal protections provided under Section 230, then they must allow all information to flow freely. If they want to be information gatekeepers, then those protections must be withdrawn so that people have legal remedies against abuse.